Buy Link: Grown Men
Author: Damon Suede
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: Novel

Rating: 4.75

Runt has been alone on a deserted island for over a year, sent there by the HardCell conglomerate to terraform a remote planet.  If he successfully completes his seven years of servitude, Runt will one day own a piece of the farm and become a HardCell shareholder, a hard won victory in a difficult world. Runt was supposed to have a partner, a clone wife who would help him work the farm and start a family.  However, the clone wife was destroyed upon entry to the planet, and Runt has been alone and struggling since he arrived.

One day Runt is thrilled to see a huge package of supplies has landed on the beach. He has been hoping for a replacement wife, but sadly HardCell hasn’t sent one. On the upside, he is excited that the package includes food, tools, and desperately needed farming supplies.  Runt knows if he doesn’t increase his production on the farm, HardCell with “retire” him permanently and replace him with someone else.  But Runt is most shocked to find something else in the box–an enormous giant of a man named Ox.

Runt immediately assumes that Ox has been sent to kill him and take over the failing farm. His first instinct is to kill Ox first, yet he finds the gentle giant’s smile and pleasant demeanor make it impossible to harm him.  Still he is not thrilled to find that instead of his hoped for wife, he has ended up with an enormous man who doesn’t speak.  Yet slowly the men find a way to work and grow together.  Runt is surprised to find how seamlessly he and Ox adapt to their shared life. As the only two inhabitants of the island, they live and work together, rebuilding the farm and making it a huge success. Although Ox doesn’t speak, the men communicate well, form an incredibly close bond, and become best friends.  Yet Runt is always a bit wary of Ox, not understanding why this incredibly strong and physically impressive man would be used by HardCell for such a menial job.  And Runt becomes even more concerned when he finds a “kill kit” that Ox has brought along and hidden.

I really loved the story and its theme of growth.  I think Suede does a great job of carrying that idea throughout the book.  When the book opens, the farm is failing and withered.  Runt is alone and starving and barely holding things together.  When Ox arrives, the message from HardCell tells Runt that because he is only using 37 percent of the space, they are sending someone to fill the remainder, “an optimal solution for all employees concerned. HardCell means business!”

Right from here we get the first sense of two people coming together to complete a whole. Runt and Ox are such physical opposites, yet they compliment one another and work well together.  By the end of the story they have each grown to fill their space and create something new and thriving.

We orbit each other. The way the two suns burning overhead made daylight.

Ox laughed silently at something then, and the goofy non-sound stole Runt’s breath.

They sent my mate after all. More than once during that endless, horny day, Runt tried to remember the person he’d thought he was, the life he’d thought he had. He tried to find his imaginary vat-grown wife in his mind’s eye, to conjure up her lush bottom, her sweet skin, her blank smile, but she melted like a cobweb. His lust kept turning to the hairy beast beside him, salty and scarred. He couldn’t control his desire and he found he didn’t want to try. Ox’s hammering heat hung over him like those suns.

I really liked both Ox and Runt.  Despite being small, Runt is determined to succeed and never lets his size get in the way of his determination.  He is brave and tough, but also caring and kind.  And Ox is truly a gentle giant.  Even with his massive size he is always cautious about physically overwhelming Runt.  It is clear that he is hurting inside from something in his past, and Runt takes care of Ox mentally as much as Ox helps Runt physically.

I think Suede does a beautiful job conveying what Ox is thinking and feeling even though he doesn’t speak.  The story is told from Runt’s point of view and I was amazed how much I could understand about Ox even without him talking. He and Runt are able to communicate nonverbally and even as a reader I felt I could understand and know him as well.

At some point, though he couldn’t say when, Runt forgot that Ox couldn’t talk. They certainly had entire conversations without Ox speaking a word. And Runt found that he talked less, even to himself. There was no need. They grew to be like mismatched brothers and worked together in a kind of seamless symbiosis, until Runt couldn’t remember living solo or wanting to.

I will admit I am not usually much of a science fiction reader but I had no trouble jumping into this story. The book is the first in the HardCell series, but Suede wrote a short story, Seedy Business, that also takes place in this world and features Ox’s brother.  You don’t need to read that first, but it does provide some backstory on Ox that is not covered in this book in as much detail.  (It is a free download on Goodreads.)  My only criticism of this story would be that I did want a bit more detail on the HardCell world.  Who is this company? Why do they have so much power?  More may come to light in future books in the series, but I am a person who always likes to understand everything so I missed that a bit.

Overall though I thoroughly enjoyed Grown Men.  I loved the slow development of the relationship between Runt and Ox.  And I thought the themes of growth and the blending of two lives together were beautifully done. I can’t wait for the rest of the series and highly recommend Grown Men.

Cover: Loved this.  I mean, look at that ass!  Plus, I love that the cover actually represents a real scene from the book. Great job!